POV: 50 Years after Dallas, It’s Time for Gun Control
Grisly thread linking Kennedy and the Newtown and Washington Navy Yard massacres
We have reached the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, when a disturbed 24-year-old gunman named Lee Harvey Oswald changed the course of history with an Italian bolt-action rifle he had purchased by mail order. The commemoration of this tragic event looms especially large in light of the recent Washington Navy Yard shootings by Aaron Alexis, another delusional young man who bought a shotgun to brutally slay 12 innocent people.
Although nearly a half-century separates the two events, there are nevertheless eerie parallels. Both Oswald and Alexis were maladjusted veterans with a history of violent behavior. Oswald spent a large share of his youth skipping school and getting into fights with his classmates. “He was quick to anger,” a family member recalled. “He was vicious almost….He was just a bad kid.” As a marine stationed overseas in Japan, he alienated his superior officers by routinely refusing to follow their orders and by accidentally shooting himself with an unauthorized derringer pistol. “I dislike everybody,” Oswald said. He later gave serious thought to highjacking a passenger airliner to Cuba and to assassinating former vice president Richard Nixon. “I can’t take [this crazy behavior] all the time,” his wife told him.
Like Oswald, Alexis was an angry loner who had difficulty fitting in with others. “He was insecure,” family friend Gene Demby told the media. “He was like a barbershop conspiracy theorist, the kind of guy who believes he’s smarter than everybody else. He was also kind of like perpetually aggrieved.” This sense of persecution led Alexis to bizarrely complain to authorities that he was the victim of “some sort of microwave machine” operated by unknown individuals who were intent on preventing him from getting a good night’s sleep. He had earlier experienced an “anger-fueled blackout” that resulted in him shooting out the tires of a total stranger. “I don’t know why he did what he did, and I’ll never be able to ask him why,” his mother said. “Aaron is now in a place where he can no longer do anyone harm, and for that I am glad.”
Ironically, Oswald today would find it just as easy as Alexis did to legally purchase a rifle or other firearm to unleash his pent-up fury on an unsuspecting world. And therein lies the rub.
In the wake of the Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo., shooting rampages last year, little or nothing has been done by our elected representatives in our state capitals or in Washington to curb the access to guns of persons with severe mental disorders or violent dispositions. Indeed, a reasonable sort of person would think that there would be a comprehensive federal and state background check system already in place to avoid the kind of tragedies that have become all too commonplace in our society.
Think again. Thanks to a well-organized and monied gun lobby, which views any attempt to restrict the availability of pistols or semiautomatic weapons as an egregious violation of the Second Amendment, such legislation has as much chance of winning approval on Capitol Hill as the Chicago Cubs have of becoming World Series champions. Which is to say, slim to none. Even President Obama, who has spoken eloquently for the need for stronger gun control legislation, knows this effort may be the political equivalent of tilting at windmills. Still, he hasn’t entirely given up hope, as evidenced by his remarks at a memorial service for the Washington Navy Yard shooting victims. “Sometimes I fear there is a creeping resignation that these tragedies are just the way it is, that this is somehow the new normal,” he said. “We cannot accept this.”
He’s right. If we are to avoid having any more mass killings, a concerted effort needs to be made by the American public to break the ever-widening cycle of violence and mayhem. That means phoning, emailing, or texting our local, state, and federal officials and telling them that their current do-nothing approach on this important national issue is no longer acceptable.
Here are some suggestions on what can be done:
- A mandatory federal and state background check for all potential gun owners.
- A revival of the Brady Bill, which banned assault weapons.
- New federal, state, and local tax levies on the sales of guns and ammunition.
- The elimination of multiround ammunition clips.
I know many gun owners may not be happy with my suggestions, but the last time I checked, the Second Amendment called for a well-regulated militia, not for providing deranged individuals a license to kill.
Thomas Whalen, a College of General Studies associate professor of social science and the author of A Higher Purpose: Profiles in Presidential Courage (Ivan R. Dee, 2007), and the upcoming JFK and His Enemies: A Portrait of Power (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014), can be reached at email@example.com.
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